One of salmon’s greatest qualities is its versatility. From sushi to soufflé, the possibilities seem endless. But is eating raw salmon really okay?
Before you assume you can behave in the manner of a grizzly bear, consider the following.
Unlike most fish and farmed salmon, wild salmon are born in freshwater, live most of their lives out at sea, and then return upstream to their freshwater birthplace to spawn and eventually die. And it’s precisely the freshwater part that can be tricky when eating raw, wild salmon.
This physiological change can mean a greater chance of parasites. But by freezing salmon, any living organism that’s used the salmon as a home — like parasites — will have been killed off. All of our wild-caught salmon is frozen, to lock in freshness.
How Different Cultures Around the World Eat Raw Salmon Without the Health Risks
Given the risk for food-borne pathogens and food poisoning from undercooked or raw salmon, you might be wondering about different cuisines from across the world that are famous for their raw fish dishes. Gravlax is a Scandinavian staple of raw salmon cured in salt, sugar, and dill. Sashimi and sushi in Japan are some of the most famous examples of raw salmon in cuisine. And in South America, Peruvian cuisine is encapsulated in ceviche, a tangy appetizer of fresh raw fish cured in lime or lemon juice, chili peppers, and spices.
So, how do they get away with it? Obviously, people in Peru, Scandinavia, and Japan don't have major issues with food safety on a regular basis.
The secret is in the freshness of the raw fish they use plus flash freezing which will kill parasites. Sushi-grade fish is caught live and within the same day is either put on ice immediately during transportation or stored in sub-zero freezers prior to preparation.
2 Signs Your Flash Frozen Wild Salmon is Relatively Safe to Eat Raw
We never recommend the consumption of raw or undercooked fish — including salmon — because it may increase your risk of foodborne illness.
But if you can’t resist, remember to smell and then touch. These are two signs your frozen wild salmon is relatively safe to eat raw:
A properly frozen and handled wild salmon won't smell "fishy."
Once thawed, give your fillet a poke. The salmon's flesh should bulge in but then bounce back to its original, firm form.
If your wild salmon has been previously frozen, doesn’t smell very fishy and is firm to touch, you’re in a good spot for your next poké bowl or sashimi.
The Safest Ways to Cook Salmon at Home
Just because you're trying to stay safe, doesn't mean you necessarily have to resort to overcooking. Nobody wants dry or overcooked salmon, so here are a few tips for ensuring the right level of doneness without going overboard:
Use a timer: If you're pan-frying salmon on the stove, aim for 3-4 minutes for each side of the fillet.
Let it finish "cooking on the plate": Remember that any cooked food is going to increase its internal temperature for a few minutes even if it's been taken off of or away from the heat source (oven, stove, grill, etc.)
Use your eyes: Pay attention to how the fish looks throughout the cooking process. Remember that different parts of your fillet will cook at different times. For instance, the edges and thinner parts of a salmon fillet will start to brown if you're grilling, sauteing, or baking a salmon in an oven while the thickest part may take a little longer.
Use a fork: Flake off a tiny piece of salmon close to the end of the cooking time you've set. If it flakes easily without much resistance, your fish is likely done. Undercooked salmon will not break apart or flake as easily.